There’s no denying political climate change. The past 18 months have seen an enormous swing in the Washington power balance, a shift that has heightened the polarization that has characterized our public life for more than a decade now. How has this divisive political climate influenced public opinion on education policy and reform? And how much, if at all, has the new president swayed the public’s views?
The 2017 Education Next survey, conducted in May and June of this year, offers us an opportunity to explore these questions and many more. With this year’s survey, our 11th annual poll of a representative sample of the American public, we examine current attitudes toward major issues in K–12 education and compare the results with those of prior years. We also break down responses by political party and, for whites, by level of education. These analyses allow us to see whether changes have been concentrated in any specific political or demographic group.
Our sample of more than 4,200 respondents, including oversamples of parents and teachers, also gives us the chance to experiment with some of the survey questions in order to tease out nuances in public opinion. For a variety of questions, we divided our respondents randomly into two (or more) groups and asked each group a slightly different version of the same question. For example, we told one group about President Donald J. Trump’s position on an issue while the other group was not given this information. By comparing the responses of the two groups, we are able to estimate the “Trump effect” on public thinking. Since we performed this same experiment during the first two years of the Obama administration, we are able to compare the Trump impact with the Obama one.